physical penetration testing


Key takeaways

  • A physical penetration test is an evaluation of how effective your property’s physical security measures are.
  • Pen tests may involve a variety of methods, such as social engineering or bypassing security.
  • Commonly used penetration testing tools include lockpicks, RFID skimmers, crowbars, and more.
  • Physical pen tests help you comply with regulations, save on costs, and identify vulnerabilities in your security.


Your property may undergo physical penetration testing as part of a security assessment, which helps identify vulnerabilities in your security measures. But what is a pen test, and how does it help?

Well, we detail what pen tests are, the types of testing, and the different methods commonly used. Additionally, we’ll tell you what tools are used for testing and how they benefit you.

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What is a physical penetration test?

A physical penetration test, also known as a “pen test,” evaluates the effectiveness of a property’s physical security measures.

The objective of a pen test is to identify potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses in the property’s security by simulating real-world attacks and intrusion methods by authorized professionals.

From the results of physical security penetration testing, businesses can better protect their assets, employees, and property from potential threats.


Types of physical penetration testing

A pen test may be performed by an in-house security team or by using third-party physical penetration testing services. Regardless, there are different types of penetration testing, but the nature of your organization will dictate which is best for you.

The main types of physical penetration testing include:


White box

A white box physical penetration test involves testers having full knowledge of the target organization’s security measures. The information given includes the location, layout, known vulnerabilities, and even the technologies used by the organization. A white box test is designed to test your property’s security measures comprehensively and increases the chances of a tester succeeding.

White box tests are conducted for the following reasons:

  • Faster and more affordable physical penetration testing.
  • Detailed analysis of all aspects of a property’s security measures.
  • Prioritization of testing known vulnerabilities that are most likely to be exploited.
  • Validation of security improvements that were made in response to previous tests.


Black box

As you might be able to guess, black box penetration testing is when testers are given little to no information regarding the organization. This test is designed to simulate the perspective of an external attacker with minimal insider knowledge. Typically, the only information provided to the tester is the address of the property.

Black box testing may be performed for the following reasons:

  • Lacking knowledge of vulnerabilities and weaknesses allows for an unbiased evaluation of security measures.
  • Helps identify areas where vulnerabilities may have been overlooked.
  • Evaluates the organization’s capabilities of responding to threats.


Grey box

Lastly, a grey box penetration test is a combination of the previous tests; The tester is given a limited amount of information or access to the organization. A grey box test is often faster than a black box test and is given to help speed up the testing process.


Learn how access control works and improves security:


Pen testing methods

When performing a pen test, testers will use a vast range of methods to exploit vulnerabilities in your security measures. No matter the method used, they will fall into one of the four categories listed below.

The four types of methods used for pen testing include:

  1. Social engineering
  2. Forced and covert entry
  3. Bypass security measures
  4. Advanced persistent threats (APT)


1. Social engineering

You’ve likely heard the term “social engineering” before in your own company’s security training. Social engineering is the process of manipulating an individual to obtain sensitive information or access.

As such, social engineering takes many different forms:

  • Phishing. A social engineer sends an employee an email, text, or even a phone call by pretending to be someone. Within their delivery, they’ll ask for sensitive information such as passwords or codes to get through security measures without detection.
  • Pretexting. Perpetrators create false scenarios to gain access to information or areas. For instance, the attacker assumes the role of an IT technician who claims they need access to a building to work on a computer. Attackers will urge employees to grant them access because of the serious nature of the situation they’ve simulated.
  • Impersonation. The attacker will try to impersonate a legitimate person to gain access to a building. They may even dress the part and use intimidation tactics to pressure people into giving them access.
  • Tailgating. This tactic involves the social engineer following closely behind someone while walking or in their car to gain access to a restricted area. Social engineers may act as if they have their hands full and ask for someone to hold the door or be on the phone while entering the gate to avoid being stopped.


2. Forced and covert entry

Testers usually prioritize covert entry into unauthorized areas because they want to cause minimal damage to the property and test how a threat could slip through undetected. With that in mind, covert entry tactics may include manipulating lock systems or slipping through barriers.

Of course, physical security consultants must also consider the forceful tactics an attacker may use to access a property. So, they’ll simulate attacks that fall into the category of brute force tactics, such as smashing windows or ramming barriers. This way, testers can analyze how the organization responds and identify potential vulnerabilities within their procedures or systems.


3. Bypass security measures

This method of physical pen testing involves using tools or techniques to bypass security measures. Generally, it aims to identify vulnerabilities in locks, access control, and other physical mechanisms.

For example, a common technique for bypassing a secure door is lockpicking. Traditional locks can easily be manipulated through picking or bumping, which testers will demonstrate to organizations.

In addition, testers showcase how access control systems could have vulnerabilities regarding credentials. That is if the credentials are not encrypted. In the case of unencrypted credentials, the tester will try to clone an RFID tag from an employee’s key card or fob, giving them access to the property.

Overall, testers will employ a variety of techniques to bypass physical security barriers and mechanisms your property may have in place.


4. Advanced persistent threats (APT)

While advanced persistent threats are commonly used in cyber attacks, they may also be used to breach physical security measures. Despite the application, the goal is the same: to stealthily infiltrate an organization over a prolonged period of time using targeted attacks.

Testers using APT will use any of the aforementioned tactics, such as social engineering, impersonation, covert infiltration, and more to obtain their objective. Then, once inside, they may manipulate systems and equipment within the organization to further their goals.



Tools used for pen testing

Earlier, we hinted at some commonly used physical penetration testing tools, such as lockpicks. However, testers will incorporate several types of tools for penetration testing.

Tools used during pen tests may include:

  • Lockpicking tools. These kits are widely available and designed to manipulate the pins of locks, enabling a user to gain unauthorized access.
  • Bump keys. Named after the tapping or bumping motion once inserted, bump keys are specially crafted to quickly open pin tumbler locks. When hit with a hard strike, the teeth of the key cause the pins in the lock to jump up, allowing for the key to turn.
  • Shimming tools. Shim tools are thin, flexible tools used to bypass certain types of locks and latches. The shim is inserted between the door and the frame, allowing the user to release the mechanism. These tools may also be used to access vehicles.
  • Wireless devices. When a tester wants to manipulate an access control system, they may select from a wide range of wireless devices, such as a smartphone, RFID skimmer, NFC cloner, or Bluetooth sniffer. With these devices, a tester can intercept non-encrypted credentials and create their own, giving them access to the property.
  • Entry tools. Lastly, entry tools refer to the many types of tools a tester may use to gain entry into a property. For instance, crowbars, bolt cutters, and breaching rams are potential considerations.


Benefits of physical penetration testing

Penetration testing is an essential aspect of any property’s security efforts, and here’s why.

Physical penetration testing helps your property:

  • Comply with regulations. Depending on your industry, you may need to comply with local, state, or federal regulations regarding physical security. To assist with compliance, physical penetration testing helps determine what areas of your organization need improvement. This way, you can prevent punitive actions from being taken.
  • Identify vulnerabilities. By identifying vulnerabilities, weaknesses, or blind spots in your security measures, you can improve systems and better prepare policies. In turn, your property will be more effective at preventing security breaches and responding to threats.
  • Validate security investments. If you’ve made physical security improvements to your property that were prompted by a previous penetration test, submitting to another test is a great way to test those upgrades. The new test can help you validate your security investments, or it may discover new vulnerabilities that result from the improvements.
  • Save on costs. By improving your property based on results from a pen test, your organization reduces potential losses, such as damaged property or stolen assets, and you avoid the remediation costs that come alongside those problems. What’s more, you’ll avoid serious legal and regulatory fees related to compliance penalties.


Physical security penetration testing FAQs


How much does a penetration test cost?

A penetration test could cost anywhere from $4,000 to $30,000.

The factors that influence your pen test include the size of your property, the type of test performed, and the services you use.


How long does it take to conduct a penetration test?

On average, it takes one to three weeks to conduct a penetration test. It depends on the size of your property and the complexity of the test.


Is pen testing illegal?

No. Pen testing is not illegal. All states in the U.S. allow organizations to test their physical and digital security measures.


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Bryson Hile

I love learning about new technologies, especially within the real estate market. I currently reside in Fishers, Indiana.

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